Travel Tips – How We Maintained 12 Hours of Sleep on Vacation with Toddlers


Mar 21, 2024

I often get people telling me they think about me their entire vacation…ha! Sleep can be totally thrown off when your child is in a new environment, but you don’t have to sacrifice great sleep!

Today I am sharing with you how we traveled with our 3 and 2 year old girls without sacrificing our sleep! I’ll cover:

  • HOW bedtime routine shifted
  • WHAT obstacles stood in the way for Night 1 & 2
  • WHEN you should get your kid to sleep after a long day
  • HOW to prepare your kids for a hotel stay
  • WHY sleep cues are important!

And before we jump in, if you want to travel confidently with your family and KEEP sleep a thing wherever you go, I want you to check out our Travel Guide! This guide includes everything you need to know to keep making memories and traveling after having kids, things like: packing lists for babies up through preschoolers, car ride and carry on lists, strategies for leaving at night or in the morning, handling naps on the go, and so much more!! Click here to grab yours today!

Let’s set the stage for our trip now. We had such a successful experience on vacation with toddlers and I can’t wait to share how you can make your travels a success for your family too, even with toddlers! So I’d like to walk through the trip starting from the beginning and staying in a hotel.



It was a 15 hour nighttime drive from our house all the way down to 30A in Florida! We woke our girls up to leave on a Saturday morning at about 4am. Early early. They did not get 12 hours of sleep that night, and we totally thought they were going to fall back asleep in the car. That did not happen. 

They actually didn’t sleep at all in the car and I was really surprised that they didn’t! I truly thought they were gonna go back to sleep. Maybe our 2 year old did, but only for 15-20 minutes. Our 3 year old did not sleep at all. She just sat and asked us millions of questions, wanted to talk, wanted to know when we were having snacks! 

So it was a long day… and we can safely say that there was a lot of exhaustion in that van for 15 hours from Virginia to Florida. 


We arrived there and my whole intention was to actually do a really quick bedtime routine, get them down as soon as possible; however, we had a little miscommunication because I got a little carried away and I immediately took our 3 year old to the beach. 

We drove all that way, we’re staying right on the beach, and we had to go out to the water. This was survival mode, right? This was a classic case of survival mode.

Meanwhile, Chad was so wonderfully doing what I always tell people to do… he was setting up the room. So Tip #1 when you’re traveling, whether it’s been a long day, or if it’s been a short 3-hour trip, the first thing you should do is set up the room. 

Okay, so shame on me, I did not follow through with that on this trip, but I let Chad do it. He set up their room and he made that room super dark. He actually used aluminum foil and painters tape but here are some of our other favorite blackout solutions for traveling! (And of course, if SlumberPod had been a thing for our girls on this trip, we would’ve LOVED to use that instead!!)




Our original plan was to have the cousins share a room. They were coming from different time zones so the plan was to get our girls down then sneak the other two cousins into the room. 

So the first night, we got our girls down and they were out, in maybe 10 minutes, maybe a little bit more. We did our plan maybe the first two nights, and then we had to call it quits. Our kids and our niece and nephew were just on a different schedule, our youngest daughter is a really light sleeper, and it honestly just did not mesh well. 

So by night 3, we had split up and our girls were in one room and their kids were in another room. Honestly, that was way better for everybody and that’s okay! 

Either situation was going to be kind of a survival mode, but once all the kids were split up differently, everybody slept all night long. So that trial and error worked in our favor. We actually go on this beach vacation every year and we had been looking forward to this year finally being the year that all the cousins shared a room so we could have our own space and they could make memories together. It just didn’t work out yet, and that’s okay. We had to be flexible with our plans to make the most of the week!


We were getting the girls down to bed at 6:30, even 6:15 some nights, because they were so exhausted! They love the beach. They love the sand and the sun! So if you’re going have a high energy, high activity day, get your kid down sooner if you can! It’s such a gift to them. 

Our girls slept great all night long, thanks to blacking out the light, and our youngest still took amazing naps. She napped from about 12:30-2 every day, sometimes she went down a little later because of the activity of the day. But we kept it to a 2-hour nap so she could sleep at night.


We did our best to keep our routine – after the first couple of nights, it was just like at home but in a different room. Night 1 is often going to be a challenge, or it could be fine, but it’s just adjustment. You might have a long night just because it’s a long day, you’re in a new place, and it’s just the nature of things. 

By night 2, we really wanted things to get back on track, but that night was horrible. It ended up being due to a terrible diaper rash, on top of sharing the room with cousins on a different schedule, and dealing with that does affect sleep. 

And then, night 3 ended up being awesome. The rest of the week was flawless. I mean, they did great the entire time. Even early bedtimes because of some really just long days of playing outside because we love the beach.



We got to the end of the week and we had such a blast, but we remembered how awful that drive there was. You know it’s bad when both kids throw both iPads on the floor. They don’t want any more Elmo. They don’t want any more iPads and they are just done. 

Fifteen hours was way too long, so even though we wanted to power through, I definitely don’t suggest that, and we will never do that again. So we decided that on the way back, we were going to split it up. 

We found a hotel at the exact midway point, so we did 6 hours one day and 6 hours the next, plus stops. 


We drove back on a Saturday, and we stopped at about 4:30pm, which was great! It was enough time to get dinner and head to the hotel for an early bedtime. No one had slept in the car. The youngest did not have her nap, everyone was cranky, and our 3 year old was basically emotionally drained. This was all new to her! 

We had never all shared a room before and they hadn’t stayed in a hotel, so we had prepped them on the way that we would stop at a hotel and share what was happening. We said it was going to be fun and different and unique and then walked them through what would happen.  

We tried to get a suite, but we didn’t realize it was Memorial Day weekend so they were all sold out. So we had a regular room. 

Our tip would be that if you are stopping at a hotel, book a suite because you will be able to have a little bit more freedom than we had. 


We decided not to give them a bath in the hotel, so for our bedtime routine, we just washed off their faces, brushed their teeth, went potty, and we didn’t even bring a book, but they know the drill. 


At 3 and 2, they know how to get ready for bed. So we got them ready for bed and we prepped them by saying something like, “Okay, now we’re gonna sing our songs. We’re gonna get into bed, say goodnight to each other, like we always do, and this is kind of the different part! Mommy and Daddy are going to get into our bed because it’s time for us to go to sleep over there. And you’re going to sleep in your beds!” 

Our 2 year old had nothing to do with that and we ended up moving her pack and play in between the two beds because she was so thrown off. (This is where a suite or a SlumberPod would be helpful!)

It actually took 40 minutes for our 2 year old to finally settle down and go to sleep and it took 15 minutes for our 3 year old to settle down. They both really just were kind of confused.



We woke the girls up at around 5:45AM the next morning to get up and head home. It was again a short night but we got home around lunchtime, and they did a great job.

When we got home, it could have been a naptime for our youngest, but we just decided to skip her nap, so now she had had two days of no napping. So we put the girls down at 6pm (early, early!) and they were out. They stayed asleep until 7AM the next day!!


After having probably 5-6 nights of solid sleep at the beach (once we got through those first two nights of just up and down horrible diaper rash and confusion of where to sleep) it was finally smooth sailing, and they slept 12 hours for the rest of the trip. 

And then at the hotel, they probably got 10 hours, but they did great!

And then we got home and got right back into the expectations.



Takeaway #1: There’s a difference between awake time and energy level.

During our trip down, Chad was thinking, “Wow, they’re full of energy!” but I was thinking “They’ve been awake alllll this time!”

So in that instance, energy and awake time don’t really correlate very well. You have to consider the fact that they’ve been awake forever, and you have to understand the signs of being tired.

Those signs are different for every kid but here are a few signs of exhaustion. For babies who are 4-9 months old or so, sometimes newborns do this too, the arching back is a huge sign that they’re done. They’re exhausted, they’re tired, they’re arching their backs, and wiggling. 

As your child gets older, which is different for each kid but around 6 months old, if they are rubbing their face, they are tired. They could be grabbing at their eyebrows or grabbing at their ears. 

For toddlers, over-tiredness looks like hyperactivity. So if you see that your toddler after 8pm or so is doing laps around the house, they’re exhausted. They’re not Energizer bunnies, they are just so tired. 

Be in tune to what your child’s sleep cues are and you want to avoid those at all costs. (And by the way – if they’re yawning, they’re actually way beyond tired!) 

Takeaway #2: Routines and similar environments go a long way.

For this trip, for us, getting the girls’ sleep environment as close to home as we could, in order to keep our routine the same, was key. The girls responded really well to that! My brother’s kids also really stuck to their routine and they responded well to that. 

When you have a routine and you’ve instilled that in your kids, then you can be flexible when you go on vacation, and you can hit survival mode when you need to, and they’ll respond to it. 

I want you to know that if you are someone who has been fighting a structure or fighting a schedule because you don’t want your child to be on a rigid schedule then I have to challenge you. I have to tell you that when your child is on a schedule and when your child has a solid routine, they can be flexible and they can be pushed!

They can be in a new environment and sleep. Yes, always take vacations with a grain of salt because crazy things can happen (give those nights some grace!) but get right back into expectations as soon as you possibly can.



So, after hearing about our trip with our toddlers, what do you think? Are you motivated to keep making memories with your family and still make sleep a thing, even when you’re traveling? You really can make amazing memories with your kids and still enjoy the world even after being a parent!

Remember to keep these tips in mind when you do!

  • Always give grace on travel days.
  • Set up their room right away when you arrive.
  • Be willing to be flexible.
  • Adjust bedtime if needed!
  • Keep your routines the same and give it time.
  • And, finally, prepare for some things to be different and make some adjustments, but remember, you can always get back to your normal expectations when you get home!

Oh, and one last thing! If you’re looking for an even more in-depth look at traveling well with your kids, including packing lists, strategies for SOS situations, how to handle time zone changes, and so much more, remember to check out our Travel Guide where you’ll find all of that, and more, for just $25.

I can’t wait to hear about the memories you make with your family while your kids are getting the sleep they need on your vacations!! You really can keep sleep a thing, wherever you go! Go vacation with toddlers!



You CAN vacation with toddlers AND have great sleep! Sleep can be totally thrown off when your child is in a new environment, but you don’t have to sacrifice...

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Keep sleep a thing on vacation with the Little Z's Travel Guide!